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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Continue To Battle Consistency Lose 5-3 To Michigan State

by on February 15, 2019 10:50 PM

Penn State lost 5-3 on Friday night to Michigan State in a game that could very well be the final death-blow to the Nittany Lions' flickering postseason hopes.

Boiled down: It was never that much a game. A 5-1 score midway through the night chased Peyton Jones for Oskar Autio and despite an early power play in the third period that could have cut the lead to one, it was never truly a comeback in the making.

From the "well technically..." perspective, Penn State could theoretically win its way back into the NCAA Tournament. A hot finish and a run in the Big Ten Tournament is not unreasonable given the program's history of doing just that. So Friday made a challenging task even harder, but not impossible. Much of this will depend on the health of Evan Barratt who was hurt in the first period and never returned. Without him the hill becomes even steeper.

All of that is secondary to the larger issue at play. Penn State needs to win a lot in the final few weeks to make the tournament. If you're reading this story, none of this comes as a huge shock.

Coaches -hello James Franklin-- in any sport will tell you that winning masks a lot of issues. This is also something that does not take decades of experience to uncover. You've seen a team win despite issues and shortcomings, you've seen teams win that maybe shouldn't have.

And Penn State has its issues, there isn't much of a way around that.

Defense has never been the program's strength, goaltending has been inconsistent and the offense for all of the firepower Penn State's forwards bring to the table, their own hiccups have cost the Nittany Lions along the way as well.

Friday night marked the 11th time this year and 22nd time in the past two seasons that Penn State has given up five or more goals. To be certain high scoring affairs will happen, weird games will unfold. That's just the nature of hockey, especially in a season of 30+ outings of a somewhat arbitrary sport.

But Penn State has regularly boasted one of the best offensive outputs in the nation over the past few years. The Nittany Lions score goals in bunches and still manage to lose games, games that involve giving up  a lot of them. No matter your philosophy, if you're scoring four goals, you ought to be winning more often than not.

There are a lot of things that will have to get better for Penn State to improve as a program that don't involve something as admittedly nuanced as goals-allowed, but the broad issue is pretty clear. In truth, it always has been, Penn State has just managed to win anyway.

The irony at the core of this, Penn State has shown an ability to play well enough win the games it has lost. It has shown the skill set to beat Notre Dame and play well enough to beat Ohio State. It's not a gap of talent or ability, those things exist compared to some of the nation's elite, but at its best, Penn State can hang with anyone.

Which brings us to Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods has never, in the broad historical sense, the longest driver of the ball or the best putter on tour. He had his moments, but it wasn't entirely what made him so good.

What has made Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, is his ability to access his best golf on a consistent basis. It's being able to read putts at a high level, to hit irons well for an entire weekend.

Talent is part of the battle, being able to be consistent with that talent is the benchmark when it comes to quality and greatness.

So for Penn State hockey it's a bit of both, talent can always get better when you're building a program.

But the talent is there to play better than this, it just has a find a way to access it more often.

And in the case of this particular year, it will have to find that way soon.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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